Continuum Approaches to Understanding Ion and Peptide Interactions with the Membrane
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- Latorraca, N.R., Callenberg, K.M., Boyle, J.P. et al. J Membrane Biol (2014) 247: 395. doi:10.1007/s00232-014-9646-z
Experimental and computational studies have shown that cellular membranes deform to stabilize the inclusion of transmembrane (TM) proteins harboring charge. Recent analysis suggests that membrane bending helps to expose charged and polar residues to the aqueous environment and polar head groups. We previously used elasticity theory to identify membrane distortions that minimize the insertion of charged TM peptides into the membrane. Here, we extend our work by showing that it also provides a novel, computationally efficient method for exploring the energetics of ion and small peptide penetration into membranes. First, we show that the continuum method accurately reproduces energy profiles and membrane shapes generated from molecular simulations of bare ion permeation at a fraction of the computational cost. Next, we demonstrate that the dependence of the ion insertion energy on the membrane thickness arises primarily from the elastic properties of the membrane. Moreover, the continuum model readily provides a free energy decomposition into components not easily determined from molecular dynamics. Finally, we show that the energetics of membrane deformation strongly depend on membrane patch size both for ions and peptides. This dependence is particularly strong for peptides based on simulations of a known amphipathic, membrane binding peptide from the human pathogen Toxoplasma gondii. In total, we address shortcomings and advantages that arise from using a variety of computational methods in distinct biological contexts.